Rhetoric heats up over Catalan independence vote
BARCELONA, SPAIN — A parade of farmers’ tractors rolled into Barcelona on Friday in support for Catalonia’s independence vote as Catalan and Spanish authorities issued conflicting statements on whether the disputed referendum would even take place on Sunday.
The vehicles, many with Catalan flags, drove slowly into the city to the cheers of residents who stood by the side of the road.
The demand by Catalan separatists to hold an independence vote for the prosperous northeastern region of 7.5 million people has thrown Spain into a political and constitutional crisis.
Spain’s government calls the vote illegal, since it violates the constitution, and the country’s constitutional Court has ordered it suspended. Spanish authorities have been cracking down on efforts to organize the vote, detaining organizers and confiscating ballots and posters.
The disputed vote has even sparked a showdown over who police in Catalonia should report to, the region’s ruling separatist politicians or the central government in Madrid.
European Union officials on Friday ruled out any mediation in the clash.
Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont and Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, in separate interviews with The Associated Press, had urged Europe to intervene to break the political deadlock over the vote.
But European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said Friday at an EU summit in Estonia that the dispute is “a Spanish problem in which we can do little. It’s a problem of respecting Spanish laws that Spaniards have to resolve.”
Tajani says the EU is maintaining its support of Spain’s government because “on a legal level, Madrid is right.”
“I think it’s important to talk on a political level” after the vote, he added.
The EU has said that Catalonia will be ejected from the bloc if it declares independence and would need to apply to rejoin it.
Spain’s cabinet spokesman said Friday there will no referendum on Sunday and warned Catalan officials that they would “face consequences” for pressing ahead with a vote that was suspended by the country’s constitutional Court.
Catalan officials, however, announced that more than 60 per cent of the 5.3 million eligible voters are expected to cast ballots Sunday despite the Spanish government’s efforts to stop the referendum.
Separatist groups have been calling on parents to organize activities with students in schools this weekend in order to occupy the buildings so police can’t show up to close them off before the vote.
With the tourist-popular Barcelona as its regional capital, Catalonia contributes a fifth of Spain’s 1.1 trillion-euro economy ($1.32 trillion).
The majority of Catalans favour holding a referendum but they have long been almost evenly split over independence, with oscillations depending on Spain’s current economic performance.
Farmers from around Catalonia parade in Barcelona in support of the Catalonia referendum and vow to help protect polling stations in the upcoming vote.